Criteria changes factor in school ratings

Editor’s note: This is the second of a two-part series looking at White Pine County School’s performance in the Nevada School Performance Framework. Part one looked at David E. Norman and McGill Elementary Schools and White Pine Middle School. Part two will look at White Pine High School and Lund. 

For White Pine High School, its Nevada School Performance Framework rating is based on more factors than elementary and middle schools. Its rating also includes factors like graduation rates and the number of students who take remedial classes in college.

“Our biggest struggles in the most recent designation, there’s two of them,” Principal Adam Young said. “One of them is the performance of our students on the high school proficiency exams. Over the years, that’s something we’ve done really well on. The exams have changed and then the cut score for the math exam changed last year. It used to be 242, it’s now 300 so we got zapped big on that for the star rating.”

Further complicating matters is the proficiency exams will be phased out after the class of 2017, White Pine County School District Superintendent Bob Dolezal said and the district has moved toward the new standards, the Common Core Standards but the tests still cover the old standards.

“We’re teaching the new standard but testing on the old standard,” Young said.

To help students pass the proficiency exams, students are offered a math class designed to teach materials covered on the exam as well as an interactive online program, which identifies areas students need more work on and providing help online.

The school’s other biggest area for improvement deals with  preparing students for life after high school, whether that be attending a university or entering the workforce.

“This has been a challenge for a number of years and I think it’d probably be fair to say it was a challenge when I was in WPHS too, is the idea of college and career readiness,” Young said. “There are a number of factors that go into that as far as how they measure that. One of them is the number of kids who participate in the ACT, the number of kids who have to be remediated when they go to college and there’s a couple other things as well.”

The high school is working on helping students by offering Advance Placement courses, which can result in high school students earning college credits, as well as a College and Career Readiness club, designed at helping students prepare themselves no matter what comes after high school.

“The idea is if you’re able to be ready for college or for a career by the time you graduate, then you have options,” Young said. “You don’t have to go to college and it’s not our goal to send every kid to college. But if you’re not going to go to college, we want them to be thinking about a career rather than just a job to bide their time.”

Lund Elementary School

Although Lund received a two-star rating, principal Jolynn Maynard said parents shouldn’t worry too much about the ratings. That’s because of the small size in the school, which can skew results greatly. However, the school is always looking to improve, Maynard said.

“Our numbers are too low for accurate statistics,” Maynard said. “Areas of concern are how we can make sure every student is making progress. I would say we are always trying to improve reading, writing and math.”

Coupled with small class sizes, Lund is looking for ways to improve the educational experience of all its students through a variety of measures.

“We utilize TA’s to help in elementary classrooms, peer tutoring, parent volunteers and, of course, teachers are constantly trying to improve,” Maynard said.

While Lund will continue to look to increase its ratings, Maynard said that because of the number of students at the school, rating the school can often be difficult,”

“(I would tell parents) not to be alarmed if the ratings are not there or maybe not as high as we would like because of the low class sizes will skew the statistical results,” Maynard said.

Complete take away?

For Dolezal, this year’s rankings give a partial picture of the school’s progress in certain areas. But, it is not a perfect system.

“One of the criticisms of the no child left behind law is schools focus so much on getting everyone to a certain level that schools across America were perhaps ignoring the top end students,” Dolezal said. “Our district never bought into that. While we’re working to help the kids with the greatest disadvantages, we’re still challenging our top end students. That creates a problem for us in the ratings because if we raise all students by 15 points, we haven’t closed the gap at all but every child is performing better.”

While the star system is based on performance measured by standardized tests, for Young, it’s more important students receive a well-rounded education, even if it doesn’t translate into the ratings.

“The focus is less on playing the games that are necessary to sometimes meet the criteria and more about are our students learning at a high level and when they’re not, what are we doing to correct that,” Young said.  “You cannot capture everything a kid is learning by a test. It is impossible. Any system that is based on tests is going to have flaws.”

Dolezal said the district will always do its best to meet whatever standards are placed before it. But that doesn’t mean it’s going to ignore its larger mission.

“Our district’s perspective is we still have to teach the whole child so that the child is a good citizen,” Dolezal said. “We need to produce kids who are good citizens and well-rounded individuals.”

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